If you’re like me you love both Arizona Football and Arizona Basketball. You live for the hardwood just as much as the gridiron. You cherish the ’97 championship and you loathe Santa Clara and Illinois. Wildcat hoops are a big deal.
But if you’re like me you also have a short attention span and are attracted to shiny things. This year UA football has held its sparkle a lot longer than usual and the hoops team has temporarily lost its sheen. You don’t love the BasketCats any less, you just weren’t in as big a hurry to dive into the season.
Well, here we are. Smack dab in the middle of the three-week lull before the Holiday Bowl. There’s no more denying it. It’s time to see what’s up with the basketball team.
Feeling a little out of touch? Don’t worry, we’re here to help.
What did I miss?
Not a whole lot, actually. The Cats are 3-1 at home, 0-2 on the road, and we finished 6th in the Maui Invitational.
How are the freshmen looking?
If you have not yet seen Mr. Derrick Williams play, go do it. Now. Williams is by far the Cats’ best post presence and he’s hit double-figures in seven of the nine games. Derrick scored 25 against Wisconsin and 28 against UNLV, the double-overtime game he almost won by himself.
At 6-7 he’s a lot more Taj Gibson than Kevin Love but he’s aggressive around the rim and he draws fouls (seven free-throw attempts a game). He can also do this.
The other young fella to watch is Solomon Hill. He’s a 6-6 wing who shoots 53% from the floor, 79% from the line, and contributes nine points and five boards a game. His assist numbers are a little light right now but he’s already made some Luke-Walton-esque passes so you could see him flirting with a triple-double at some point.
Is it hard to envision Williams and Hill as key guys on a Pac-10 title contender in two years? Not at all. And that’s the kind of thinking we need this year.
Are the returning players any good?
The best-case scenario for this squad was a repeat of 1999 with Nic Wise as Jason Terry (22 points per game, Pac-10 Player of the Year), and Jamelle Horne as A.J. Bramlett (14 and 9 a game), leading the talented freshmen along.
It just hasn’t happened. Nic’s scoring is up but his shooting percentages are down (except from the line) and he’s struggled to consistently hit his shot.
You want a black-and-white stat? The Cats are 4-0 when Wise shoots at least 50% from the floor and 0-5 when he doesn’t.
How does the Pac-10 look this year?
About as well as the housing market. It you want to feel dizzy take a look at the current Pac-10 standings. WSU is on top with its 8-2 record. Arizona has the 9th best overall record. UCLA is in the basement. Stand on your head and it looks like, oh, 1986-2006.
The problem for the league is nobody has beaten anybody and almost everybody has been beaten by a nobody. The Pac-10’s best wins thus far? You have ASU over a 5-2 LSU team and Cal over 7-2 Pacific. That’s it.
The worst losses? Take your pick. Oregon against Montana and Portland. UCLA against Portland, Fullerton and Long Beach. USC to Loyola Marymount. Stanford to San Diego and Oral Roberts. OSU to (avert your eyes) Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Sacramento State. The Pac-10’s RPI might be lower than Brandon Jennings’ test scores.
You may have noticed that Arizona isn’t on that second list so if you’re looking for something positive you can start there. The Cats have five losses. Three are to teams currently ranked (Wisconsin, Vandy and UNLV) and the other two are to 7-3 Oklahoma and 8-2 SDSU. Of course, our best win is against a Louisiana Tech team that has feasted on things called UTPA and UALR so we didn’t make the first list either.
Give it to me straight: NCAA Tournament streak?
Let it go, my friend. Let it go. The Wildcats are 4-5 right now with three remaining out-of-conference games, all at home. Lipscomb should be a win, but NC State and BYU are a combined 15-2. A 5-7 non-league record is very possible and that’s not going to be close to getting it done.
The last two years Arizona went 9-9 and 8-10 in Pac-10 play. What makes you think we’re going to improve on that with a worse roster? This squad, like most young teams, is going to struggle on the road. The first two tests were Oklahoma and San Diego State and both resulted in 17-point losses. Factor in hiccups at home due to inexperience and an overall winning record is a more realistic ceiling than 19 wins.
When the Pac-10 tournament rolls around Arizona will be looking to duplicate USC’s run of a year ago. If it can’t the quarter-century of sustained excellence will come to an end.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Giving someone a clean slate usually implies wiping away something like a scandal or prolonged losing. For Sean Miller it means erasing the pressure of a great thing. Lute Olson’s NCAA tournament streak is at 25. Sean Miller’s is at zero.
Don’t get me wrong, Miller is expected to do great things here. Pac-10 championships are expected. Final Fours are expected. Building a team good enough to play on the final day of the tournament is expected. Lots of pressure will be there. Just not right now.
So what are we supposed to do this year?
Same thing we always do.
Cheer on the Cats, and Bear Down.